Thornburg v. Gingles

Last updated
Thornburg v. Gingles
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 4, 1985
Decided June 30, 1986
Full case name Lacy Thornburg, Attorney General of North Carolina, et al. v. Ralph Gingles, et al.
Citations478 U.S. 30 ( more )
106 S. Ct. 2752; 92 L. Ed. 2d 25; 1986 U.S. LEXIS 121; 54 U.S.L.W. 4877; 4 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (Callaghan) 1082
Case history
PriorGingles v. Edmisten], 590 F. Supp. 345 (E.D.N.C. 1984).
Holding
The inquiry into the existence of vote dilution caused by submergence in a multimember district is district specific.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr.  · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall  · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr.  · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens  · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityBrennan, joined by White, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens (parts I, II, III-A, III-B, IV-A, V); Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens (part III-C); White (part IV-B)
ConcurrenceWhite
ConcurrenceO'Connor, joined by Burger, Powell, Rehnquist
Concur/dissentStevens, joined by Marshall, Blackmun
Laws applied
Voting Rights Act § 2

Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), was a United States Supreme Court case in which a unanimous Court found that "the legacy of official discrimination ... acted in concert with the multimember districting scheme to impair the ability of ... cohesive groups of black voters to participate equally in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice." The ruling invalidated districts of the North Carolina General Assembly and led to more single-member districts in state legislatures.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. The Court holds the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the U.S. Constitution. It is also able to strike down presidential directives for violating either the Constitution or statutory law. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide non-justiciable political questions.

North Carolina General Assembly legislature of North Carolina

The North Carolina General Assembly is the bicameral legislature of the State government of North Carolina. The legislature consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The General Assembly meets in the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States.

Contents

Background

Legislative history

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits any jurisdiction from implementing a "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right ... to vote on account of race," color, or language minority status. [1] :19–21, 25, 49:37 [2] The Supreme Court has allowed private plaintiffs to sue to enforce this prohibition. [3] :138 In City of Mobile v. Bolden (1980), the Supreme Court held that as originally enacted in 1965, Section 2 simply restated the Fifteenth Amendment and thus prohibited only those voting laws that were intentionally enacted or maintained for a discriminatory purpose. [4] :60–61 [5] Congress responded by passing an amendment to the Civil Rights Act which President Ronald Reagan signed into law on June 29, 1982. Congress's amended Section 2 to create a "results" test, which prohibits any voting law that has a discriminatory effect irrespective of whether the law was intentionally enacted or maintained for a discriminatory purpose. [6] [7] :3 The 1982 amendments provided that the results test does not guarantee protected minorities a right to proportional representation. [8]

Voting Rights Act of 1965 Piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the civil rights movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act secured the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.

A plaintiff is the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court. By doing so, the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy; if this search is successful, the court will issue judgment in favor of the plaintiff and make the appropriate court order. "Plaintiff" is the term used in civil cases in most English-speaking jurisdictions, the notable exception being England and Wales, where a plaintiff has, since the introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules in 1999, been known as a "claimant", but that term also has other meanings. In criminal cases, the prosecutor brings the case against the defendant, but the key complaining party is often called the "complainant".

Ronald Reagan 40th president of the United States and conservative spokesman

Ronald Wilson Reagan was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989 and became the highly influential voice of modern conservatism. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the 33rd governor of California from 1967 to 1975.

When determining whether a jurisdiction's election law violates this general prohibition, courts have relied on factors enumerated in the Senate Judiciary Committee report associated with the 1982 amendments ("Senate Factors"), including:

  1. The history of official discrimination in the jurisdiction that affects the right to vote;
  2. The degree to which voting in the jurisdiction is racially polarized;
  3. The extent of the jurisdiction's use of majority vote requirements, unusually large electoral districts, prohibitions on bullet voting, and other devices that tend to enhance the opportunity for voting discrimination;
  4. Whether minority candidates are denied access to the jurisdiction's candidate slating processes, if any;
  5. The extent to which the jurisdiction's minorities are discriminated against in socioeconomic areas, such as education, employment, and health;
  6. Whether overt or subtle racial appeals in campaigns exist;
  7. The extent to which minority candidates have won elections;
  8. The degree that elected officials are unresponsive to the concerns of the minority group; and
  9. Whether the policy justification for the challenged law is tenuous.

The report indicates not all or a majority of these factors need to exist for an electoral device to result in discrimination, and it also indicates that this list is not exhaustive, allowing courts to consider additional evidence at their discretion. [5] [8] :344 [9] :28–29

Section 2 prohibits two types of discrimination: "vote denial", in which a person is denied the opportunity to cast a ballot or to have their vote properly counted, and "vote dilution", in which the strength or effectiveness of a person's vote is diminished. [10] :691–692 Most Section 2 litigation has concerned vote dilution, especially claims that a jurisdiction's redistricting plan or use of at-large/multimember elections prevents minority voters from casting sufficient votes to elect their preferred candidates. [10] :708–709 An at-large election can dilute the votes cast by minority voters by allowing a cohesive majority group to win every legislative seat in the jurisdiction. [11] :221 Redistricting plans can be gerrymandered to dilute votes cast by minorities by "packing" high numbers of minority voters into a small number of districts or "cracking" minority groups by placing small numbers of minority voters into a large number of districts. [12]

Redistricting is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries in the United States. A congressional act passed in 1967 requires that representatives be elected from single-member districts, except when a state has a single representative, in which case one state-wide at-large election be held.

At-large is a designation for members of a governing body who are elected or appointed to represent the whole membership of the body, rather than a subset of that membership. At-large voting is in contrast to voting by electoral districts.

Procedural history

In July 1981 the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a redistricting plan in response to the 1980 United States Census. [13] In September 1981 plaintiffs sued North Carolina Attorney General Rufus L. Edmisten, alleging their votes would be submerged by multimember districts in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. [13] Meanwhile, in June 1982 Congress amended the Voting Rights Act, extending Section 5 and substantially revising Section 2. [14] [15] In January 1984 a special three-judge district court in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina made up of Circuit Judge James Dickson Phillips, Chief District Judge William Earl Britt, and Senior District Judge Franklin Taylor Dupree Jr. agreed, finding that all the challenged districts violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and enjoined holding any elections under the General Assembly's redistricting plan. [13]

1980 United States Census National census

The Twentieth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States to be 226,545,805, an increase of 11.4 percent over the 203,184,772 persons enumerated during the 1970 Census. It was the first census in which a state – California – recorded a population of 20 million people, as well as the first in which all states recorded populations of over 400,000.

Rufus L. Edmisten American politician

Rufus Lige Edmisten is an American attorney who served as North Carolina Secretary of State, Attorney General, and was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1984. He is currently a lawyer in private practice.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina is the United States District Court that serves the eastern 44 counties in North Carolina. Appeals from the Eastern District of North Carolina are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

North Carolina Attorney General Lacy Thornburg directly appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The case was argued on December 4, 1985 with Attorney General Thornburg appearing himself, and the Solicitor General of the United States Charles Fried also appearing, both arguing for reversal. Julius L. Chambers argued for the respondents. [16] Chambers was supported by co-cousels, Lani Guinier, and Leslie Winner.

Lacy Herman Thornburg is an American lawyer and retired United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. He served as the North Carolina attorney general from 1985 to 1993.

Solicitor General of the United States

The Solicitor General of the United States is the fourth-highest-ranking official in the United States Department of Justice. The current Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, took office on September 19, 2017.

Charles Fried American judge

Charles Fried is an American jurist and lawyer. He served as United States Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1989. He is a professor at Harvard Law School and has been a visiting professor at Columbia Law School. He also serves on the board of the nonpartisan group, the Campaign Legal Center.

Opinion of the Court

On June 30, 1986, the last day of the term, the Supreme Court announced its decision, alongside Davis v. Bandemer and Bowers v. Hardwick . The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that there were Section 2 violations in all of the statehouse districts except the Durham County, North Carolina multimember district, which a majority reversed. [17] In an opinion by Justice William J. Brennan joined by partially by Justices Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens the Court used the term "vote dilution through submergence" to describe claims that a jurisdiction's use of an at-large/multimember election system or gerrymandered redistricting plan diluted minority votes, and it established a legal framework for assessing such claims under Section 2. [lower-alpha 1] Under the Gingles test, plaintiffs must show the existence of three preconditions:

  1. The racial or language minority group "sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district";
  2. The minority group is "politically cohesive" (meaning its members tend to vote similarly); and
  3. The "majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it ... usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate." [19] :50–51

The first precondition is known as the "compactness" requirement and concerns whether a majority-minority district can be created. [20] The second and third preconditions are collectively known as the "racially polarized voting" or "racial bloc voting" requirement, and they concern whether the voting patterns of the different racial groups are different from each other. If a plaintiff proves these preconditions exist, then the plaintiff must additionally show, using the remaining Senate Factors and other evidence, that under the "totality of the circumstances", the jurisdiction's redistricting plan or use of at-large or multimember elections diminishes the ability of the minority group to elect candidates of its choice. [8] :344–345

Plurality opinion

Justice Brennan goes on, in a section Justice White refused to join, to reject the Solicitor General's argument that a multiple regression analysis is needed to take into account the other socioeconomic factors that might influence voting patterns. [21] According to the plurality, race is the determinant, not a mere corollary, of voter behavior. [21] As illustration Justice Brennan notes that 47.8% of the black population of Halifax County, North Carolina lives in poverty, compared with only 12.6% of whites. [19] :65 Because race, and only race, is the relevant evidence of polarized voting, the four justices believed the lower court correctly relied only on an ecological regression and bivariate analysis. [21]

Concurrence

Justice White wrote separately to note that he disagreed with Justice Brennan's view that only voters’ race can be relevant evidence of polarized voting. [22] For Justice White the race of the candidates also mattered; it would not be racially polarized if white voters elected a black candidate not supported by black voters. [22] Without Justice White's fifth vote Justice Brennan's section on the relevant evidence only carried the authority of a plurality opinion. [21]

Concurrence in judgment

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, joined by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and Justice William Rehnquist concurred in the judgment only. Justice O’Connor, a former Arizona statehouse legislator, began by noting that Senator Bob Dole, “the architect of the compromise”, [19] :96 had insisted the 1982 amendment explicitly disclaim any right to racially proportional representation. [21] Nevertheless, Justice O’Connor sees the majority opinion as attempting to create a right to “usual, roughly proportional representation”. [19] :91, 97, 99,102 Justice O’Connor next agrees with Justice White that the plurality was wrong to insist the only relevant evidence is the race of the voters. She writes that the law does not permit “an arbitrary rule against consideration of all evidence considering voting preferences”. [19] :101

Concurrence in part and dissent in part

Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Marshall and Blackmun, joined the Court in affirming the three judge district court but dissented from reversing the judgment regarding the Durham County multimember district. Justice Stevens wrote that although Durham County had elected a black candidate in every election since 1972, the multimember district still violates the Voting Rights Act considering “the political realities of the State”. [19] :107 Furthermore, Justice Stevens felt reversing without a remand was “mystifying” and “also extremely unfair.” [19] :108 n.4

Subsequent developments

Subsequent litigation further defined the contours of "vote dilution through submergence" claims. In Bartlett v. Strickland (2009), [23] the Supreme Court held that the first Gingles precondition can be satisfied only if a district can be drawn in which the minority group comprises a majority of voting-age citizens. This means that plaintiffs cannot succeed on a submergence claim in jurisdictions where the size of the minority group, despite not being large enough to comprise a majority in a district, is large enough for its members to elect their preferred candidates with the help of "crossover" votes from some members of the majority group. [24] [25] :A2 In contrast, the Supreme Court has not addressed whether different protected minority groups can be aggregated to satisfy the Gingles preconditions as a coalition, and lower courts have split on the issue. [lower-alpha 2]

The Supreme Court provided additional guidance on the "totality of the circumstances" test in Johnson v. De Grandy (1994). [18] The Court emphasized that the existence of the three Gingles preconditions may be insufficient to prove liability for vote dilution through submergence if other factors weigh against such a determination, especially in lawsuits challenging redistricting plans. In particular, the Court held that even where the three Gingles preconditions are satisfied, a jurisdiction is unlikely to be liable for vote dilution if its redistricting plan contains a number of majority-minority districts that is proportional to the minority group's population. The decision thus clarified that Section 2 does not require jurisdictions to maximize the number of majority-minority districts. [32] The opinion also distinguished the proportionality of majority-minority districts, which allows minorities to have a proportional opportunity to elect their candidates of choice, from the proportionality of election results, which Section 2 explicitly does not guarantee to minorities. [18] :1013–1014

An issue regarding the third Gingles precondition remains unresolved. In Gingles, the Supreme Court split as to whether plaintiffs must prove that the majority racial group votes as a bloc specifically because its members are motivated to vote based on racial considerations and not other considerations that may overlap with race, such as party affiliation. A plurality of justices said that requiring such proof would violate Congress's intent to make Section 2 a "results" test, but Justice White maintained that the proof was necessary to show that an electoral scheme results in racial discrimination. [33] :555–557 Since Gingles, lower courts have split on the issue. [lower-alpha 3]

Statisticians have observed that the Court's approach is invalidated by the ecological fallacy. [37] Social scientists have found that federal judges vary widely when applying the Gingles preconditions. [17] Three judge courts made up of all Democrat appointees have ruled in favor of Section 2 liability in 41% of cases, contrasted with 11% under the all Republican appointed panels. [17]

North Carolina would face continued redistricting woes after the 1990 United States Census. In Shaw v. Reno (1993) the Supreme Court 5-4 struck down North Carolina's attempt to create two majority minority districts. After hearing the case three more times, in Easley v. Cromartie (2001) the Supreme Court would 5-4 uphold the redistricting because the General Assembly's motivations had been purely political. [38]

See also

Notes

  1. In Gingles, the Supreme Court held that the Gingles test applies to claims that an at-large election scheme results in vote dilution. The Court later held, in Growe v. Emison , 507 U.S. 25 (1993), that the Gingles test also applies to claims that a redistricting plan results in vote dilution through the arrangement of single-member districts. [18] :1006
  2. The Courts of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit, [26] Eleventh Circuit, [27] and Ninth Circuit [28] have either explicitly held that coalition suits are allowed under Section 2 or assumed that such suits are permissible, while those in the Sixth Circuit [29] and Seventh Circuit [30] have rejected such suits.democracy [31] :97:703
  3. Courts of Appeals in the Second Circuit [34] and Fourth Circuit [35] have held that such proof is not an absolute requirement for liability but is a relevant additional factor under the "totality of the circumstances" test. In contrast, the Fifth Circuit has held that such proof is a required component of the third precondition. [31] :711–712 [36]

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References

  1. PD-icon.svg This article incorporates  public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "The Voting Rights Act of 1965, As Amended: Its History and Current Issues" by Garrine, Laney (June 12, 2008).Retrieved on October 6, 2013.
  2. Voting Rights Act of 1965 § 2; 52 U.S.C.   § 10301 (formerly 42 U.S.C. § 1973)
  3. Tokaji, Daniel P. (2010). "Public Rights and Private Rights of Action: The Enforcement of Federal Election Laws" (PDF). Indiana Law Review. 44. Retrieved February 25, 2014.
  4. City of Mobile v. Bolden , 446 U.S. 55 (1980)
  5. 1 2 PD-icon.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work in the public domain : "Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act". U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  6. Mcdonald, Laughlin (1985). "The Attack on Voting Rights". Southern Changes. 7 (5). Archived from the original on October 14, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2013.
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  8. 1 2 3 Mulroy, Steven J. (1998). "The Way Out: A Legal Standard for Imposing Alternative Electoral Systems as Voting Rights Remedies". Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. 33. SSRN   1907880 .
  9. PD-icon.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work in the public domain : Senate Report No. 97-417 (1982), reprinted in 1982 U.S.C.C.A.N. 177
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  13. 1 2 3 Gingles v. Edmisten, 590 F.Supp. 345 (EDNC 1984).
  14. Pub.L.   97–205
  15. Thomas M. Boyd & Stephen J. Markman, The 1982 Amendments to the Voting Rights Act: A Legislative History, 40 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1347 (1983).
  16. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1985/83-1968
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  18. 1 2 3 Johnson v. De Grandy , 512 U.S. 997 (1994)
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986)
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  34. Goosby v. Town of Hempstead, 180 F.3d 476 (2d Cir. 1999)
  35. Lewis v. Alamance County, 99 F.3d 600 (4th Cir. 1996)
  36. League of United Latin American Citizens v. Clements, 999 F.3d 831 (5th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1071 (1994)
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  38. Robinson O. Everett, Redistricting in North Carolina—A Personal Perspective, 79 North Carolina Law Review 1301-1332 (2001)